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Lies, smears, and rambling: Ortega’s rants against the April Rebellion

Ortega’s reaction to the 2018 explosion has been a series of conspiracy theories about a “planned coup d'etat”

Ilustración: Confidencial

Redacción Confidencial

25 de abril 2022


On April 21, 2018, Daniel Ortega broke his silence, 72 hours after citizens had begun pouring onto the streets in huge demonstrations and the subsequent government promoted massacre and repression against them. The mayhem had started with a protest in Leon over his unpopular Social Security reforms; by the next day, they had become national demonstrations of outrage over the Sandinista youth group’s violent attacks on the elderly participants. 

By the time Ortega finally spoke, the protests were widespread, in a national outcry over the increasingly violent government repression that had already left several dead and injured. The cry against the reforms had become a demand for justice, liberty, and democracy.

That April day, Ortega spoke over national television and radio without mentioning the victims of the repression, or the dead - the latter at the hands of police and the paramilitary groups. Instead, he blamed the violence on “small opposition groups” he called “gang members”.

From then until now, Ortega has transformed Nicaragua into a de facto police state. During this time, he has maintained in speeches and infrequent interviews, but never substantiated, his view that what happened in Nicaragua was a “failed Coup attempt” aimed against him.

Confidencial analyzed Ortega’s 142 public appearances between April 21, 2018, and April 21, 2022, using transcriptions of his speeches from the government website “El 19 digital”. The Confidencial team then counted all his direct or indirect references to the protests, the demonstrators, or the supposed perpetrators of what he continues referring to as the “Coup attempt”.

The analysts also tallied the instances where he called the protesters “terrorists” or “Coup plotters”, and tracked Ortega’s increasingly harsh language regarding the social explosion, used to justify the de facto police state through all its different stages. Finally, the team examined how Ortega signaled the political persecution and censorship that have grown ever worse over the four years since that social outburst.

The “conspiracy” according to Ortega

In his speech on April 21, 2018, Ortega said he was willing to amend the reforms to Social Security his government had unilaterally declared. These reforms had been the spark that ignited the protests. However, by this time, there had already been 19 deaths and nearly a hundred wounded (a toll that would later grow to 355 and over a thousand) and damage to businesses and other property. Ortega also announced his willingness to meet with the private sector, in a bid to lure the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) back into his fold, after they broke with the hitherto consensus model and called for a massive march on Monday, April 23, 2018.

In Ortega’s view, those protests were “a carefully elaborated conspiracy”. With no evidence, he accused the demonstrators of being “paid to come and attack the Police.” He was silent on widespread reports of his agents’ violence against the population - first firing rubber bullets at them, then tear gas, and finally firing indiscriminately live ammunition at the crowd, including the use of weapons whose use was limited to the Army.

Days later, Ortega painted the young people, university students, and citizenry in general as “coup plotters”, “terrorists” and “sellouts of their country”, who were attacking and killing the Sandinista police and followers who remained loyal to the government.

In this version, which Ortega wove to suit his own convenience, his regime was the victim. The citizens who had been killed by shots to the chest, head, and neck by sharpshooters using high-caliber weapons didn’t exist. He ignored the fact that journalists’ investigations had found ample evidence of these killings, and national and international human rights organizations had amply documented them, based on the testimonies of victims and family members. Despite this, Ortega maintained that the population was being manipulated by United States’ “agents”, or by “imperialism” as he called it.

Ortega has repeated these accusations in 72 of the 135 official discourses and seven interviews he’s offered between April 21, 2018, and April 21, 2022. On the latter date, he reappeared following 28 days out of public view, to express his jubilation over the International Court of Justice’s recent ruling in a dispute with Colombia. [The Court ordered Columbia to cease activities in Nicaragua’s maritime zone.]  He accused the Colombian authorities of “holding power, thanks to the support of narcotraffickers”.

According to Ortega’s replay of the April 2018 events, the United States organized and paid Nicaraguan citizens to carry out “a failed Coup attempt” against him. He cited similar attempted Coups against the now-deceased Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia. However, in his speeches, Ortega never offers any evidence at all, merely points to “Yankee interventionism” – the same line he’s preached since the eighties when he first governed the country.

A law to persecute the “terrorists” 

The three countries in the world with the greatest incidence of terrorism are Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia. Like the rest of Central America, Nicaragua has no documented incidents of terrorism, according to the 2021 Global Incidence Report of the Institute for Economics and Peace, published in March 2022. Nonetheless, during his scarce public appearances in the last four years, Ortega has made 75 mentions of the supposed “terrorists” behind the April Rebellion.

“We’re waging in these weeks, in all these days, once more, a battle for peace. On one side, the sowers of weeds that Christ spoke of; they’re going around out there sowing weeds, sowing their terrorist practices, to murder their Nicaraguan brothers,” stated Ortega in a speech on July 7, 2018. On that occasion, he spoke during an activity his regime had baptized as the “walk for peace”, while his police and paramilitary forces carried out the bloody “Operation Clean-up”, to dismantle the roadblocks and barricades the population had constructed to protect themselves from government attacks. At first, the “clean-up” groups assaulted the barricades only at night, but later they carried out their operations in broad daylight as well.

That was the first time Ortega used the term “terrorists” to classify the protests; over the next four years, it’s been his most oft-repeated smear, but not the only one. In his speeches, Ortega has also called the demonstrators “Coup plotters” (18 times), and “sellouts of their country” (12 times). He has also termed them “traitors”, “demons”, “sowers of hate”, “straw men”, “murderers” and “criminals”.

The use of the term “terrorist” was also a precursor to the legal actions the regime initiated against the citizens. On July 16, nine days after Ortega’s first reference to “terrorism”, the Sandinista-controlled National Assembly approved the “Law against money laundering, financing terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” That law was used to justify the imprisonment of 270 of the over 800 political prisoners that year, according to defense attorneys and media reports.

Turning the victims into perpetrators

Of Ortega’s 142 public discourses these four years, 72 of them contained references to the protesters. Fifty-four of these references were direct, especially during 2018. In another 18 discourses over the following years, he referred to them indirectly, blaming the protesters for the economic crisis or the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic that his regime attempted to cover up.

Between April and December 2018, Ortega appeared publicly 33 times; only four of these speeches made no reference to the protests. Of those four, three were during the activities around Nicaragua’s traditional Independence Day celebrations, and one was during a brief speech inaugurating an overpass in Managua. In 2018, Ortega also offered seven extensive interviews to international news agencies such as TeleSur, EuroNews, France 24, and the EFE Agency. In all his interviews, he avoided admitting any responsibility on the part of his regime and accused the opposition of allying with the United States to eliminate his mandate to govern.

“These are the bands you could call “paramilitary” in Nicaragua. They’re groups organized by the right, with the support of intelligence agencies, and originate, logically, in the United States. They’re the ones who began the armed attacks on April 19; because on April 18 (…) there were some protests with minor incidents,” Ortega claimed in one of them.

In the beginning, Ortega’s language regarding the protests employed a conciliatory or understanding tone. He stated that there was “a right to protest”. However, Ortega never ordered the repression to cease, or to disarm the paramilitary that accompanied the Police and helped perpetuate the killing.

Instead, Ortega began escalating his accusations and attacks on the demonstrators, declaring the Sandinista party and his government to be their victims. Meanwhile, his wife and vice president Rosario Murillo issued the lethal order “We’re going in with everything”, thus enabling the killings that remain unpunished today. 

The categorical report of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, a commission set up by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, which Ortega expelled from the country before their December 2018 final report, concluded that crimes against humanity had been committed in Nicaragua. It noted that the speeches of Ortega and Murillo were aimed at generating a negative image of the citizens who had protested, and of adopting the role of “victims” to justify their “defense”.

In that way, the regime first belittled the protesters [Murillo called them “minuscule” and “tiny beings”], then later painted them as people with negative intentions. Still, later, they were blamed for the tragic and criminal events, at the same time calling them delinquents and gang members. They were accused of betraying the ideals and political achievements of the Sandinistas and being financed by US imperialism. Despite broad evidence of the violence carried out by the government itself, the leaders have imposed and stuck to their narrative.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times


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Redacción Confidencial

Redacción Confidencial

Confidencial es un diario digital nicaragüense, de formato multimedia, fundado por Carlos F. Chamorro en junio de 1996. Inició como un semanario impreso y hoy es un medio de referencia regional con información, análisis, entrevistas, perfiles, reportajes e investigaciones sobre Nicaragua, informando desde el exilio por la persecución política de la dictadura de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo.